A Treasure of a Book

As I begin rereading The Heavenly Man, the story of Chinese Christian “Brother Yun” I am deeply stirred.

heavenly manWithin the pages is a man who has experienced the power and miracles of God in modern-day. He has been faithful under incredible persecution and his continuous joy is proof of a deep relationship with God. Expressed clearly is his motivation: an abiding love for God and people.

As his co-worker acknowledges:

Yun’s testimony is written with blood and tears; his journey has been one that encountered many bitter struggles. Instead of complaining and grumbling, he learned to tackle all obstacles prayerfully, on his knees with God. … In the Chinese church I have seen many of God’s servants come with great power and authority, but with brother Yun I saw a servant of Jesus who always came in humility and meekness, reflecting the heart of the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life.

The words of his testimony are like being touched by a red hot coal. Instantly it grabs your attention and calls for a response.

Honestly, with all of the distractions in the Western world I could ignore the call. The safest route for “self” would be to discard the book. However I began the book knowing it would light a spiritual fire under me. I want that fire, I crave it’s heat. Yes, it will burn and at times be uncomfortable, but it is also a purifying flame. It will burn away that which does not belong.

As a Christian I made a commitment that Jesus Christ would be Lord of my life. He’s in control, not me. And yet, as a human, I often wrestle for control, in varying degrees. Or like a woefully out-dated navigation system, I offer ludicrous suggestions on which way to go.

What burns most is the knowledge that my relationship and experience of God isn’t as strong as Brother Yun’s. And that’s on me. The truth is my relationship with God is only as good as I want it to be. The Bible is clear: God wants a relationship with us, and has done all of the necessary work. And yet he will not impose himself. If I give him a fraction of my day and then shut my heart – intentionally or not – I’ll enjoy only a fraction of what the relationship could be.

It’s like this… The King has adopted me. Not because of who I am or what I’ve done but because of his nature of love. Not only do I have a relationship with him, but he also has appointed me as an ambassador on his behalf. As son and ambassador I have unparalleled advantage; wealth and purpose.

None of that potential is fulfilled if I choose to stay locked in my room, or act in a way that doesn’t represent the King.

[Marie] Monsen told the Christians it wasn’t enough to study the lives of born-again believers, but that they must themselves be radically born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. With such teaching, she took the emphasis off head knowledge and showed each individual that they were personally responsible before God for their own inner spiritual life.

Just as I am personally responsible, as are you.

If you haven’t read Heavenly Man I strongly urge you to do so. Why not read along with me, and let me know your thoughts on it?

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Thick Plots and Progress

I’m spine-tingly close to finishing reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. To be honest, I’d rather leave this blog and go read – but it can wait until the bus trip tomorrow. Or perhaps before bed tonight.

This morning I was thinking about the thick plotting in The Name of the Wind. Not thick as in dense or stupid, but thick as in many-layered. In my first novel, Vengeance Will Come, I have quite a few points of view, but there is really only two major plot lines – two main goals, with a few minor goals running in parallel.

In contrast The Name of the Wind has only one point of view, most of the story is told in past tense, but it is jam-packed with a plethora of goals, intrigue, wonder and danger.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to share some I can come up with in the next 5 minutes.

  1. The story opens with Kvothe (aka Kote) “hiding” in a backwater pub. Is he hiding from danger, fame or infamy?
  2. What does he know about the “demons” on the country roads?
  3. There’s something different about Kvothe, the young boy, who is exceptional in learning. What is it and why?
  4. What is the name of the wind, and will Kvothe ever learn it?
  5. Will he get to go to the university?
  6. His family, his entire troupe, is killed. Why, exactly? What part of his father’s song was so dangerous to the Chadrian?
  7. We see Kvothe struggle to survive on his own – first in the wilderness, and then in the city. He must avoid his also-homeless arch-enemy and the cruelty of the constables. He battles against hunger, sickness, isolation and trauma. Will he ever reclaim who he was before tragedy struck?
  8. He gets admitted to the university, but how will he pay his tuition and have enough to live on? Will his pride be his undoing?
  9. He makes enemies among the Masters (teachers).
  10. He is banned from the Arcanum for recklessness after being tricked by a privileged peer. Unwilling to be beaten, the two of them will be continually at each other’s throats.
  11. His tuition fees keep increasing because he antagonises some of the Masters. How will he pay back the dangerous money lender? Will he finally go too far and be expelled?
  12. He has a love interest, but there are also other suitors for both of them. Will they find true love with one another? What secrets does his beloved have?
  13. The demons are back…why?

As you can see his battling to have his desires met (attend the university, music, get revenge on the Chadrian); battling his own stubborn character and those around him; wrestling with people he doesn’t get on well, and love interests. There’s just so much going on!

I wish that the book had been less engaging – so I could have studied it more. It would make a great study in wish fulfilment, and balancing success with failure.

And about Vengeance Will Come…

I’ve got 34 things on my TODO list (most relate to checking the timing of scenes) and I am working my way through merging chapters together to make them longer.

 

 

On Mentors

It’s a classic device in fantasy writing that a mentor will educate the hero or help them along in their journey.

Partly it’s an excuse to explain to the reader the rules of the magic system or society. It’s conveniently feeding them, at the same time as the protagonist, bite-sized pieces of information.

It also dovetails nicely with the protagonist’s character arc, developing competency and knowledge. The mentor teaches, and then stands back and watches, offering correction as best they can. Eventually, the mentor leaves – or is killed – and the protagonist must survive on their own, to show how capable they have become.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a mentor-archetype. It is he who explains to Frodo the urgency of the mission and points him in the right direction. Gandalf helps to construct the fellowship, leads it and finally protects it when confronting the Balrog. While in some respects Gandalf is hands-off (frequently disappearing on side missions), he’s also a super-mentor. He pretty much knows everything and can be trusted to do the right thing. I don’t think I can remember him having a weakness or character flaw?

I really like what Patrick Rothfuss has done in The Name of the Wind. The lead character Kvothe is a child among the Edema Ruh, travelling performers of great repute with an eclectic mix of talent. After a tragedy befalls them, he lives alone in the forest for the summer, and then becomes homeless for many years in a crowded city. Circumstances occur so he can join the University he’s dreamed about as a child.

Kvothe’s vast range of experience, and the various mentors he’s had in life, enable him to believably possess a wide repertoire of skills. It’s a clever move by Rothfuss – putting him in such environments and contexts.

It is an epic-length read, but I’m greatly enjoying the book. Rothfuss has a great way with words, and I suspect I’ll be forced to read the entire series.

The Eye of the World Review (7)

This is the seventh installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. See a list of previous posts and important caveats.

When I look at my ongoing review of The Eye of the World sometimes I feel like chastising myself for tackling such a large task. Who, in their right mind, reviews chapter-by-chapter such as large book? And then I start to read the next chapter, sitting and considering the master craftsmanship of Jordan. Before long I am enchanted, drawn into not just the story but the elegance of construction.

Pressure and Intrigue

Looking at the seventh installment of my review I examine chapter 6 ‘The Westwood’ and how Jordan builds up the pressure and intrigue.

A quick recap on recent events: Rand and his father Tam have just been attacked at their farm by creatures Rand thought, until tonight, belonged only in a work of fiction (pun intentional). Now, hunted by the fierce Trollocs and their Fade commander, Rand is desperately trying to get his wounded father to the safety of the distant village.Up until this point in the story Rand has never been alone. Even when he saw the Fade (without knowing what it was), he had Tam with him. Now he is alone, not just worried for his own safety but also for Tam’s. Though Tam’s wound is small it packs a mighty punch.

A scalding fever like that could kill, or leave a man a husk of what he had once been.

This of course, suggests poison of some kind or magic making the wound worse. It’s not just the enemy Rand must avoid, but he must also beat the clock on Tam’s illness. To make matters worse Tam is deliriously muttering, which could attract the sharp-of-hearing enemy.

The setting is scary (the dark wood), the situation is scary (hunted, with a critically ill father) and Rand’s thoughts and actions match the situation. Jordan tells us the boy is scared and also shows us:

Abruptly he realized he was holding the untied ends of the bandage in motionless hands. Frozen like a rabbit that’s seen a hawk’s shadow, he thought scornfully. …

And his daydream adventures had never included his teeth chattering, or running for his life through the night, or his father at the point of death.

Strong emotions should be matched by physical manifestations. We are complex beings and our minds and bodies are seldom (if ever) fully compartmentalized.

We read about the physical difficulty and cost to Rand taking this journey.

Uncertainty made him peer into the darkness until his eyes burned, listen as he had never listened before. Every scrape of branch against branch, every rustle of pine needles, brought him to a halt, ears straining, hardly daring to breathe for fear he might not hear some warning sound, for fear he might hear that sound. Only when he was sure it was just the wind would he go on.

Who hasn’t lain in bed alone at night and wondered what that sound was? Held their breath, and cautiously looked around, body instantly hot.

A good writer takes what he knows to be true and places it in his fiction. Doing so helps the reader to relate to the character and deepens the reader’s experience through glimmers of truth.

His father had always seemed indestructible. Nothing could harm him; nothing could stop him, or even slow him down. For him to be in this condition almost robbed Rand of what courage he had managed to gather.

Anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the deleterious nature of aging can instantly understand the emotion that Rand is going through. To have it occur so quickly through tragedy, would make it even more shocking and confronting.

And then the intrigue ratchet up again with mysteries told in Tam’s deliriums:

“They came over the Dragonwall like a flood,” Tam said suddenly, in a strong, angry voice, “and washed the land with blood. How many died for Laman’s sin?”

“The fools said they could be swept aside like rubbish. How many battles lost, how many cities burned, before they faced the truth? Before the nations stood together against them?”

How does Tam, a simple farmer know of such things? What does it all mean?

What Jordan is doing here is giving us a sprinkling of world building, of back story. But because it is delivered by Tam in delirium it is better than a straight out conversation. He’s able to provide a snippet, without the otherwise inevitable detail or curious “tell me more…” from another character. And because all of this is a surprise to Rand we know it is not something that Tam would normally choose to share. The fever is giving an insight that would otherwise be hidden.

The expected event occurs, with the Trollocs and Fade hunting perilously close.

Rand sagged, gulping air and scrubbing cold sweat off his face with his sleeve.

Rand is back into his journey and the immediate threat has passed. His mind starts to wander, and Tam’s murmuring again becomes audible. It’s all still back story, even though the importance of the words are lost on the first time reader.

The tension in Rand and the reader has lessened, almost to the point of boredom, before bang Tam’s muttering suddenly becomes more personal, more relevant, more important.

“… battles are always hot, even in the snow. Sweat heat. Blood heat. Only death is cool. Slope of the mountain … only place didn’t stink of death. Had to get away from smell of it … sight of it…. heard a baby cry. Their women fight alongside the men, sometimes, but why they had let her come, I don’t … gave birth there alone, before she died of her wounds…. covered the child with her cloak, but the wind … blown the cloak away…. child, blue with the cold. Should have been dead, too…. crying there. Crying in the snow. I couldn’t just leave a child…. no children of our own…. always knew you wanted children. I knew you’d take it to your heart, Kari. Yes, lass. Rand is a good name. A good name.”

Rand, adopted? His whole world shifts for a third time in the single night. One: mythical creatures are real and they’re attacking; Two: your father who has always been a bastion of strength is now mortally ill. Three: and now, by the way, maybe he’s not even your father?

Suddenly Rand’s legs lost the little strength they had. Stumbling, he fell to his knees.

Rand’s world has changed, his position in the world and now his entire identity is under attack. All through this chapter Jordan does a wonderful job of showing emotion through action, finishing the chapter very strongly.

The Eye of the World Review (6)

This is the sixth installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. I’d like to draw your attention to the important caveats I made in part one discussing my perspective, bias and limitations and also my respect for the author.

Catch up on the previous installments: the prologue (part 1), looked at the hook, characters and world-building (part 2), describing characters and authentic in-world dialogue (part 3,), an addendum, character perspectives and how to teach reader’s about the fantasy-world (part 4) and the role and character of Thom Merrilin (part 5).

In this sixth installment we look at the Origin Story of the main character Rand, as it unfolds in chapter 5.

Continue reading

The Eye of the World Review (5)

This is the fifth installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. I’d like to draw your attention to the important caveats I made in part one discussing my perspective, bias and limitations and also my respect for the author.

If you’re late to the party you can read where I discussed the prologue (part 1), looked at the hook, characters and world-building (part 2, chapter 1), describing characters and authentic in-world dialogue (part 3, chapter 2), an addendum, character perspectives and how to teach reader’s about the fantasy-world. When you look at it that way, we’ve already covered a lot.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this series. (Crikey, early January – I didn’t realise it was that long!) Mostly it’s because I’ve been busy revising Vengeance Will Come. Partially because I was mulling over the fourth chapter, looking for an angle. I want to highlight different elements of Jordan’s writing each time, if possible.

So in chapter four, where we first meet him, I want to examine the role and character of Thom Merrilin.

Continue reading

Stephen King’s On Writing

Over the years I’ve tried a few times to borrow Stephen King’s On Writing from the library. To my dismay it was always booked out and had a loan-list as long as a welfare queue on payday.

stephen_king
StephenKing.com

I’m not sure why it took so long but last month I handed over some cold hard cash and bought a copy (you’re welcome, Stephen). Most rewarding and valuable $13 I’ve spent in recent days. It was cheaper, lasted longer and was more enjoyable than three cups of coffee, and sent me to the bathroom less.

I haven’t read much of King’s work. I’d guess at a book and a quarter; the quarter being ‘Insomnia’ which I considered aptly named. My lack of readership relates to the genre, not at all the author.

Most assuredly, King is not everyone’s favorite author. He writes content which is scary, often a little warped and is the product of a creative, perhaps disturbed, mind. In On Writing he owns it; he writes as his characters lead him and doesn’t shy away from an honest portrayal of those characters and settings, even if it ruffles the reader’s sensibilities.

I’m not trying to get you to talk dirty, only plain and direct. Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.

King starts off On Writing by describing – in snippet form – his childhood and how he began as a writer. He then moves onto the style of writing and his thoughts on what makes good writing. (Some of his ideas do challenge the advice that I’ve otherwise heard, and I will share them in future posts). His commentary and insights on writing are many and valuable, always returning to the theme of ‘it’s all about the story’. Like most authors he encourages prolific reading and writing:

[Reading] also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself…

He speaks candidly about his former substance abuse; something which seems to be an epidemic among the wealthy and successful.

The point of this intervention, which was certainly as unpleasant for my wife and kids and friends as it was for me, was that I was dying in front of them. Tabby said I had my choice: I could get help at a rehab or I could get the hell out of the house. She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that very reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide.

He didn’t have to share this but I’m glad that he did. It is owning the mistakes of the past, and also giving credit where credit is due (to his wife, family and friends).

One thing that I really liked about On Writing, and did not expect, was how highly King praises his wife. Throughout the book he speaks highly of her: her support, good qualities and dependability.

[Tabby’s] support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

He writes of the van which nearly killed him, and the long and painful journey back toward normality. It is in this time when the value of his wife shines through again, helping to get him writing again.

In the end it was Tabby who cast the deciding vote, as she so often has at crucial moments in my life. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for her from time to time, because it seems to me that one of the things marriage is about is casting the tiebreaking vote when you can’t decide what you should do next.

It is clear that he values her, and their marriage. To that, I applaud most wholeheartedly.

Mr King, if you’re ever in little old Adelaide, please come for a meal. I’ve told my wife you’re on the want-to-have-to-dinner list.